By REID TUCKER
The Paxton Town Council had its hands full with a hectic July agenda when it voted on everything from proposed tile samples to the details of its monthly meeting times and annual employee evaluations.
As a carryover from last month’s meeting, City Attorney Lorriane Bytell gave an update on the city’s ongoing project aimed at getting new tile flooring for Paxton’s multipurpose Agricultural Building. Bytell, who is heading up the project’s initial phase, told the council she had prepared a proposal asking the Lowe’s hardware and home improvement store, located in DeFuniak Springs, for a donation of all necessary supplies required by the reflooring project. Bytell said her goal was to make getting the remodeling project as cost-effective as possible.
“The goal here is to prevent the city from having to come out of pocket while at the same time getting tile that will meet our needs,” Bytell said. “Every dime of the city’s money we save on this project is money we can put back into something else in the community.”
Bytell said initial reaction from the Lowe’s corporate office has been positive, as their representatives offering to meet up to 50 percent of the cost of materials, though this offer was based on an estimate for a more expensive variety of tile than the sample she showed the Council. Bytell said she had also contacted Walton County about arranging prisoner labor for the project in a further effort to keep expenses to a minimum. She said that, after submitting the official proposal to Lowe’s, the Council should know the details within a week.
After taking care of old business, the Council discussed and eventually approved fixing its monthly meeting time at 6 p.m. year-round. However, the motion didn’t initially meet with unanimous approval as the same matter had been voted on only six months ago at the Council’s December 2008 meeting. At that meeting, the Council voted in favor of holding meetings at 7 p.m. in the spring and summer months, beginning in March, reserving its traditional 6 p.m. meeting time for the fall and winter.
At the same December meeting, the Council also voted to move regularly scheduled meetings from the second Tuesday of each month to the third so as to avoid coinciding its meetings with those of the Walton County Commission.
Councilwoman Ann Sexton, who originally put the motion to return to the old meeting time before the Council, said the decision came down to a variety of factors, though her main concern was putting less of a burden on the Council members and other city employees who are required to attend the meetings. Sexton said that, by moving the meetings back to 6 p.m. year-round, city employees would only have to wait an hour after the end of normal operating hours to attend Council meetings.
Councilman Bill McRae said that, in addition to lightening the load on city employees, the Council’s goal was to increase community attendance and participation at meetings, which he felt could be accomplished in part by having the Council convene at an earlier time slot.
As part of his report to the Council, Mayor Heyward Thomas expressed his desire to restart annual city employee performance evaluations effective October 1, the beginning of fiscal year 2010. Although yearly evaluations were long a part of Paxton’s city charter, Thomas said the process of evaluating individual employees had fallen out of practice and should be reinstated. When put to the vote, the Council agreed unanimously, though several additional suggestions were made immediately thereafter.
McRae made the motion that exceptional employee evaluations, both good and bad, should be brought before the Council for discussion at that month’s meeting for the purpose of getting its consensus on how best to address exemplary cases among the evaluations’ findings. While this proposal gained headway at first, Sexton pointed out that, as government workers, city employees’ performance evaluations would be part of the public record under the Florida Freedom of Information Act, and as such, she suggested that the Council members should “take their own initiative” in looking into the evaluations. Sexton said that having council members bring their concerns related to an employee’s performance before the rest of the Council on an individual basis, the process of discussing the evaluations could prevent overloading any one meeting.
In other Council news, the July meeting marked the first reading of new city ordinance 09-02, which, if approved at next month’s meeting, will add Paxton School to the city’s comprehensive plan.
The Council also voted on an amendment to its agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation in regard to the maintenance of the stretch of U.S. Highway 331 running through Paxton. Under its current provision, Paxton is engaged in an interlocal agreement with Walton County, in order to gain access to a portion of the $750,000 Community Development Block Grant awarded to the county by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. As such, Paxton uses its allotted funds to pay the same amount to the Walton County Association of Retarded Citizens who maintain city’s part of the highway.
The meeting concluded with an announcement of the city’s annual budget workshop, which will be held at on August 15 at 5 p.m. followed immediately by the Council’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting at 6 p.m.